Singapore Gaga (2005, dir. Tan Pin Pin)
From the director’s blog:Singapore GaGa (新加坡风) is a 55-minute paean to the quirkiness of the Singaporean aural landscape. It reveals Singapore’s past and present with a delight and humour that makes it a necessary film for all Singaporeans. We hear buskers, street vendors, school cheerleaders sing hymns to themselves and to their communities. From these vocabularies (including Arabic, Latin, Hainanese), a sense of what it might mean to be a modern Singaporean emerges. This is Singapore’s first documentary to have a cinema release.
From The Tan Pin Pin Collection DVD notes:
A city symphony like no other. Using mass displays like the National Day Parade, school cheers, public announcements as well as performances by harmonica virtuoso Yew Hong Chow, pianist Margaret Leng Tan and itinerant buskers, we discover Singaporeans’ complex relationship with Singapore. This documentary touches on the desire to be seen, to be heard and to belong.
Tan Pin Pin
Tan Pin Pin (Chinese: 陈彬彬; pinyin: Chén Bīnbīn) is a Singapore-based film director. She studied at the Raffles Girls’ Secondary School and Victoria Junior College. Her credits include Singapore GaGa, which had a sold out seven week theatrical run in Singapore. The film, a survey of Singaporean life as expressed in sounds, has played in film festivals around the world.
Her short film Moving House won Best Documentary at the Student Academy Awards in 2002. Other awards include two Asian Television Awards, Best Documentary at the US ASEAN Film and Photography Festival in 2006, and ELLE magazine’s Filmmaker of the Year.
I chose the film as I liked the meandering journey of the different sights and sounds around Singapore! It is also made by a Singaporean, set in Singapore and even has Singapore in its title!
Hope everyone likes the film like I did!
We hear buskers, street vendors, school cheerleaders sing hymns to themselves and to their communities. From these vocabularies (including Arabic, Latin, Hainanese), a sense of what it might mean to be a modern Singaporean emerges.
I would like to understand how “a sense of what might mean to be a modern Singaporean emerges”? by showing these people. I was also amazed at how the film almost complete ignores the Tamil population in Singapore. They only fleetingly appear in one of the street scenes, that too in darkness.
I chose the film as I liked the meandering journey of the different sights and sounds around Singapore!
Also, this. Can you elaborate?
I liked this documentary. I thought showing the street vendors is generally a good idea to give a feel of a city(in this case a small country) but the impression I got from this film was that vendors in Singapore are largely unwanted and are very few in number. Sure they have their quirky styles of entertaining and selling their products but I am not quite sure how they represent the country as a whole. Also, the sights and sounds that you mention are largely limited to some of the those subway passages rather than being a bit more comprehensive. I was also not clear about the significance of those cheering arabic girls and the sporting event apart from asserting that Singapore has a considerable Muslim population. The emphasis on the local musicians and the ventriloquist was a nice representative of art in Singapore highlighting a general lack of recognition for them. I also liked the scenes with the music teachers where they discuss how the flute wasn’t a nice instrument to be taught to kids and that they should have taken inspiration from China rather than imitating the European system. The music in the film is also very enjoyable. There are many things to like about this documentary but I am not sure if it is a journey through different sights and sounds around Singapore as you have mentioned.
Two more things that I really loved about the film. First, the con artist (just prefer calling her that :P) who mediates in front of her keyboard in that parking lot of a housing complex. Those approximately 4:30 mins were the most hilarious I have encountered in a documentary. I also loved that tissue paper selling female’s One Dollar One Dollar song. That was very catchy. I also enjoyed the song the guitarist was playing near the stairs of an underpass. Think of it, I seem to have liked this documentary much more than I thought earlier!
I just noticed that you are a Singaporean! Looking forward to your comments.
I am glad you liked the film!
I would like to understand how “a sense of what might mean to be a modern Singaporean emerges”?
I think the director is trying to show the multi-racial, multi-lingual and multi-religion aspect of Singapore. Our National Pledge describes our aspirations to be “one united people” despite our differences.
Singapore National PledgeWe, the citizens of Singapore,
pledge ourselves as one united people,
regardless of race, language or religion,
to build a democratic society
based on justice and equality
so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and
progress for our nation.
The significance of the cheering arabic girls at the sporting event is to give the audience an inside look at the madrasah education in Singapore. The madrasah education system is widely debated in Singapore as it raises questions about national integration and assimilation into the new economy.
The fleeting street scene that you saw was from Little India where our Indian foreign workers flock to during the weekends. They are usually construction workers and transportation is catered to send them back to their work place.
I think what I liked was how the film got us to see and hear things that we seldom take note of:
- The street vendors performing outside the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) stations to earn a living who are frequently ignored. A large number of Singaporeans take the MRT to work everyday and they would have seen them but choose to walk past them.
- The dialect radio news which is only heard at limited time slots. It is sad to see the dialect radio news broadcasters getting extinct because of the success of the Speak Mandarin Campaign which started in the late 70s. Incidentally, Singapore’s First Cable Radio station, Rediffusion, is stopping their broadcast by the end of the month.
- The sound of the environment at the Housing and Development Board (HDB) void deck. The void deck plays a very significant role in Singaporeans’ lives and is even quoted in our National Day Rally speeches. It was one of my favorite scenes as it made me more aware of what Singapore sounded like.
Thanks for all the information Daffy.
I found an interview of the director at the Apr-Jun 2012 issue of the Cinematique Quarterly. Below are the parts of the interview related to Singapore GaGa.
Singapore GaGa feels like an auditory montage – singing tissue sellers, clog-wearing uncles playing on harmonicas; students singing cheers during sports day and avant garde pianists making space for silence. What inspired this?
I wanted to create a CD of specifically Singapore sounds. Whether it was the toot of the karung guni man’s horn, or the mannered voice of the MRT announcer, or Charlee and Victor Khoo performing their ventriloquist act; I wanted to set it down as an auditory record of sounds that mattered to me in Singapore. As I went around collecting these sounds, it evolved into a documentary. I am glad this work has resonated with audiences, but it started as a personal ode to our soundscape.
A recurring element in Singapore GaGa is people who’ve been neglected or marginalised in some way and yet the film was embraced as a celebration of the rich tapestry of life in the city-state. Were you aware of these various, arguably opposing readings of the film as you were constructing it?
Yes, I was aware of the opposing readings in its construction. It was intended. Singapore GaGa is a bitter film. I thought Wasted Days and Wasted Nights was the perfect song to bracket it. Yet the sense of hope, humour and celebration runs alongside that. I think internal tensions and contradictions make a work strong. The text should be readable in many ways, by as many people.
The full interview can be found here (pages 56 to 71)